Defining the Right Problem with POV Statements

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Engineers and businesspeople are trained to solve problems. Designers are trained to discover the real problems. A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all: solve the correct problem.

Donald Norman, The Design of Everyday Things

Many consider Donald Norman the Yoda or father of user experience. With his 1988 book The Design of Everyday Things, Norman coined the term and started a design revolution, along with an entire profession. His above assertion is important to keep in mind if you are or want to be a user experience (UX) designer.

Being a UX designer is, of course, about designing a solution to a problem that users of a product or service have. It can be really fun and exciting to brainstorm, come up with new ideas, and maybe even change the world. But if you base all your work on the wrong problem, you won’t change anyone’s world with your designs.

Using the design thinking process, UX designers delve in to understanding users’ needs, motivations, frustrations, and influences through various types of research methods—surveys, interviews, observations—during the process’ first step: empathize. They then synthesize their research in order to define the problem in the next step, appropriately called define.

After the time-consuming work of user research, defining the problem may seem like quick, easy work. Yes, sometimes there may be a glaring problem that’s immediately evident from your research. But, if you don’t invest the time and energy in correctly defining your problem, it will not inspire innovative solutions or offer a good bar against which you can measure the success of your design. This is why you use a tool like point of view (POV) statements to add rigor and structure to your problem definition.

What are POV Statements?

[User (descriptive)] NEEDS [need (verb)] BECAUSE [insight (compelling)].
Structure of POV statements.

The Interaction Design Foundation defines POV statements as “meaningful and actionable problem statements, which will allow you to ideate in a goal-oriented manner.”

These statements focus on specific types of users you encountered in your research, their needs, and your insights about them. They should be broad enough to allow room for creativity in ideation but narrow enough to focus this creativity along with the scope and goals of your project.

In a previous post I explained how to craft problem statements. POV statements work similarly, but with a different format. They are written in the following structure, which requires you to input the who, what, and why of your problem.

[User (descriptive)] NEEDS [need (verb)] BECAUSE [insight (compelling)].

POV Statement Examples

Many UX designers now work on design projects for websites or apps. Because of this, I’ve created 6 example POV statements for 3 iPhone apps, 2 statements for each app, based on positive, negative, and constructive reviews I found in the App Store. 

But know that this exercise can be applied to any type of project. As Donald Norman explains in the video above, UX does not just mean how people use and interact with technology, it’s about everything they do. There are plenty of problems in the world that would benefit from correct problem definition—poverty, food shortages, epidemics, education gaps.

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For my POV statements I chose 3 top ranked weather apps: The Weather Channel, Dark Sky Weather, and AccuWeather.

It’s winter in New England, and weather is a pretty common topic of conversation this time of year here. I can predict, without fail, that when snow is in the forecast, people around me will start debating whose weather app is the best and most accurate. While the accuracy of forecasts is up to the data source a developer decides to use, the container that information is delivered in is something good problem definition can impact.  

There are dozens of weather apps available in the App Store. What is it that draws a user to prefer one over the others? What problems are these types of users looking to solve when they want weather information? Using 3 positive, 3 negative, and 3 constructive reviews for each app, I was able to define 2 POV statements for each app and start to answer these questions. 

Reflections

Reading through the app reviews 2 things become quickly apparent to me. One is that people, on their own, often do not know how to accurately express why they have pleasure or dislike of something. I read a lot of reviews that just said the apps didn’t get the weather right or they were easy or not easy to use.

We all want the forecast to be right and we all want things to be easy. These types of reviews didn’t give me specifics to work with to form a useful POV statement. Why do you need an accurate forecast? Why was it easy or not to use? This shows that asking the right questions during research is important. All the App Store does is give you a space to write whatever you want with no detailed prompts. 

The second thing I noticed was patterns in the types of people who were most pleased with a certain app. For example, a lot of reviews for AccuWeather mentioned needs for accessing allergy counts, humidity, or other specific, less commonly in demand data because of medical conditions. They explained how AccuWeather was meeting that need with the detail of information they offered compared to other apps. I didn’t find many reviews focused on this topic for the other apps. On the flip side AccuWeather users who needed severe weather alerts were not pleased with the app at all.  

No product can solve for every problem, but when there are multiple options for users, they will self-select into using the product that best provides the solution for the problem they deem to be the most important. A good portion of AccuWeather users need weather information for medical reasons so, I wrote the below POV statement based on these users, their needs, and the insight I gained about them from their reviews. 

Users with certain medical conditions NEED to base their daily activities on weather forecast data BECAUSE they are physically sensitive to even slight changes in the weather.

AccuWeather could use this statement to make sure no future design puts barriers in the way of accessing this information on the platform and to ideate ways they could improve the delivery of this data to further help this type of user and attract more like them. Likewise, this POV statement shows designers for a competitor app an area of opportunity that they are currently missing out on and could use improvement in.

Writing POV statements also helps you realize how the active statementsc with the right amount of detail can start to help you picture a real-world situation for which you can ideate solutions. Reading my problem statement mentioned previously, I start to see someone, maybe with asthma, outside on a hike and they start feeling a little short of breath. Should they turn back? Is it the humidity or the air quality that’s causing it? They fumble with their backpack, take out their phone, open AccuWeather, and search for those data points. The whole time they are a little anxious.

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I start to think about solutions for delivering this information better to them. What if they were able to sign up for alerts based on specific weather data points that way the info could be pushed directly to their home screen or a smart watch? What if they were able to set the measurement threshold for the alert? Some people with breathing issues are more sensitive than others.

What if they could have a personalized daily forecast delivered every morning? That way its right on their home screen when they wake up and they are less likely to get distracted and forget to check the day’s forecast before leaving home. This could help them reschedule their plans for the day instead of starting an activity and being disappointed that it was interrupted.

If my POV statement just said “users” and had no description of them or said these types of users just needed forecast data instead of that they base their activities off it, then the statements would have been less useful. I wouldn’t have been able to picture the above scenarios and then use them to come up with ideas that AccuWeather could employ to help these users with their need.

POV Statements Put the Pieces Together

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Defining a problem and writing POV statements requires careful examination of user research and the identification of patterns in this research, as I did with reviews in the App Store. This can be time-consuming and tedious as I discovered, but it’s well worth it.  

At first, I sat staring at what felt like endless lists of app reviews thinking I’d never be able to draw any conclusions from them that weren’t too specific or too broad. But, like putting together a puzzle, I took it slowly and methodically. Each useful review I found was like finding another edge piece and progressively they helped me to see the picture, or the problem, that I was trying to put together.  

Thanks to the prescribed POV statement structure I was able to plug in what I discovered from my research into a format that felt tangible. Seeing my POV statements made me feel excitement and momentum where once I felt anxiety and stagnation. Defining the problem is a crucial step in the design thinking process and in solving any problem. POV statements are an invaluable tool to help you define the right problem the right way.


References

Dam, R. F. & Teo, Y. S. (2019, December). Stage 2 in the Design Thinking Process: Define the Problem and Interpret the Results. Interaction Design Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/stage-2-in-the-design-thinking-process-define-the-problem-and-interpret-the-results

Gibbons, S. (2019, March 24). User need statements: The ‘define’ stage in design thinking. Nielsen Norman Group. Retrieved from https://www.nngroup.com/articles/user-need-statements/

Lyonnais, S. (2017, August 27). Where did the term “user experience” come from? Adobe Blog. Retrieved from https://theblog.adobe.com/where-did-the-term-user-experience-come-from/

Norman, D. (2013). The Power of Everyday Things. New York, NY: Perseus Books Group.

Woolery, Eli. Design thinking handbook: Define. DesignBetter by Invision. Retrieved from https://www.designbetter.co/design-thinking/define

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